The debt ceiling was established in 1917 simply to limit how much the Treasury Department could borrow to pay the US government’s debts without specific authorization from Congress. Until 1995, raising that limit was generally routine and backed by a bipartisan consensus, with a few exceptions.
Failure to raise the debt ceiling is a little bit like reaching your limit on a credit card. You can’t buy anything else until you’ve paid some of that debt down. In this case it’s the federal government that can’t borrow to pay for things that Congress has already agreed to, like sending out Social Security payments. It has always been hard to imagine anyone taking up this fight and thinking it’s a winner.
Now, they are at it again. This time they didn’t even bother to give a real reason. They are boldly saying they want only Democrats to vote for raising the limit so every Republican can say they voted against it.
One other interesting yet predictable note, when it comes to taking our economy to the brink, is that the only years in which Republicans play this card is when there is a Democrat in the White House.
You see the same political nonsense in the House debate over infrastructure. A bipartisan bill to invest $1.2 trillion in rebuilding our infrastructure is being opposed by House Republican leaders. Now, they were all for spending on infrastructure when Donald Trump was president. And this year, under Biden, nearly half the Republicans in the Senate voted for the current bill. The reality is that House Republicans are opposed to this much-needed legislation only because they think killing it would hurt Biden.
This sort of zero-sum politics defines today’s Republican party. No one should forget that in 2009, Mitch McConnell said the priority for his party over the next four years was to make sure Barack Obama was a one-term president.
It’s more than likely Republicans in the end will make some sort of deal that keeps us from falling off the fiscal cliff. But the relevance of this debate is that it makes plain what Republican leaders are all about: not making the country stronger or more prosperous, but simply inflicting as much damage as they can on the current President — whatever the consequences for the rest of us.